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Interview with Cainthus CEO: Feed tech zooms in on each cow

Dublin-based agtech firm Cainthus, founded in 2016, recently launched its bespoke feed technology that can monitor cows in real time, 24/7. We talked to CEO Aidan Connolly, here he gives Dairy Global his views on technology, the future and gives us insight into what farmers think.

Is it possible to monitor and manage each cow in the barn every single day? Yes, it is! Technology development, in general, is accelerating at such a fast pace that before you know it new and exciting technology is available that can offer another dimension to managing a dairy farm. The speed of this is undeniably surreal at times.

Aidan Connolly: "From my perspective there’s nothing more natural than a cow eating grass and other things humans can’t in order to produce meat and milk. No better way of converting grass into nutrition!" Photo: Cainthus
Aidan Connolly: "From my perspective there’s nothing more natural than a cow eating grass and other things humans can’t in order to produce meat and milk. No better way of converting grass into nutrition!" Photo: Cainthus

ALUS Nutrition is Cainthus’s first product. Launched in February 2020, it relies on a smart camera system which collects video data and evaluates the feeding behaviour of each cow. ALUS Nutrition is a feed management system that observes, digitises and converts data into information telling the farmer what is happening in real time as it monitors feeding 24/7. The system alerts the farmer when feeding management practices need attention. This technology allows the producer to input their specific feed management plan or create a new one. We talked to Aidan Connolly about this technology and more…

PROFILE

Name: Aidan Connolly

About: Aidan joined Cainthus as CEO in January 2019. Prior to this, he was the Chief Innovation Officer at Alltech. He holds a Master’s in International Marketing from the Smurfit School of Business, University College Dublin, Ireland and is the author of the strategic business planning book, ‘2-1-4-3, a Plan for Explosive Business Growth’. Aidan is often referred to as the fourth founder. Original founders of Cainthus are David Hunt, Ross Hunt and Robin Johnston.

ALUS Nutrition is an exciting launch for Cainthus, how long has the company had this vision?

4 years ago, Cainthus had 3 founders, one whose PhD involved the facial recognition of people at airports. Based on the founders’ collective background in farming they chose to focus on crops, and later cows. Although our technology was successful, we were very unsuccessful at creating a commercial product. The real challenge was connectivity. 12 months ago, we decided to change focus to something we could scale and use on farms, with the goal of being able to implement it with thousands of farms, or a million cows. In other words, something that was faster, simpler and that could be built affordably. That was a big decision, and the focus has been entirely on the ALUS Nutrition product.

The system alerts the farmer when feeding management practices need attention. Photo: Cainthus
The system alerts the farmer when feeding management practices need attention. Photo: Cainthus
The ability to watch cows continuously has never been possible but for the first time in history we now have that ability."

What are your thoughts on data driven food production and its importance in a sustainable future?

From my perspective there’s nothing more natural than a cow eating grass and other things humans can’t in order to produce meat and milk. No better way of converting grass into nutrition! But the sustainability of this is a question those involved with farming find ourselves answering all of the time. The ability to watch cows continuously has never been possible but for the first time in history we now have that ability with ALUS, the potential to make the cow's life better with cameras, to address sustainability. We are going to learn a lot. I can’t tell you that we can solve climate change, but the reality is that it will help - with data using information that we don’t have today. That is what we need in order to solve agriculture's biggest challenges.

How do you see the camera technique vs the wearables option?

Farmers often question wearables and whether they have a future, but the reality is that wearable sensors are an extremely effective technology and the technology is getting better and better. It can answer questions that cameras cannot answer today. We believe that in the future cameras will be able to do everything wearables can do and should become more reliable and affordable. Wearables can have issues – if they break, they fall off or you don’t get a detection, but if someone asks me whether they should go for a wearable today – I would say absolutely, it’s a great technology.

Launched in February 2020, ALUS Nutrition relies on a smart camera system which collects video data and evaluates the feeding behaviour of each cow. Photo: Ron Ludekens
Launched in February 2020, ALUS Nutrition relies on a smart camera system which collects video data and evaluates the feeding behaviour of each cow. Photo: Ron Ludekens

Cainthus has been involved with a farmer advisor group to develop the ALUS Nutrition, what were some of the recurring on-farm concerns?

Farmers are concerned that a lot of technologies arriving into their farms today frankly don’t work. Farmers are presented with the new technology without realising that it is still in development and needs to be tested on farm. They are also very unhappy with technology that is expensive but unreliable. Unfortunately, we hear that a lot, and that creates a bad reputation for all agtech with farmers.

Because of this, were farmers at all sceptical of this new product?

No, but this was probably because we involved our customers in our development process. It also helped that the founders of the company all had farming experience. Our farmer group was impressed because they were meeting people who understood agriculture to start with, and that gave us a huge advantage.

Can you tell me about the accuracy of ALUS Nutrition?

It is very accurate. It’s focused on one critical parameter, the availability of feed. It’s not trying to answer all the questions, and if we had then I am sure the percentage accuracy would be much lower. We are answering a relatively limited number of questions now, and even that is still very difficult from a technical perspective. What we put into ALUS is very good and I don’t want to overstate it but there has been a lot of work put into making sure that it works seamlessly. We have created an easy to use app. for the farmer’s smart device that allows making decisions regarding management in real time. So yes, it is very reliable.

ALUS Nutrition is a feed management system that observes, digitises and coverts data into information. Photo: Ron Ludekens
ALUS Nutrition is a feed management system that observes, digitises and coverts data into information. Photo: Ron Ludekens

Efficiency is a major factor on farms as it impacts the bottom line. Is Cainthus working on other technologies that will enable further efficiency on-farm?

I am glad that you’re so optimistic! We have 40 people working on one problem and we have succeeded in solving that one problem. We’ve had people say to us why don’t you solve 3, 5 or even 10 problems. The reality is that we needed to focus to solve 1 problem and develop the reliable solution that we did. The second thing we want to do is develop ALUS Behavior. Customers have asked if we could look at mastitis, fertility and we will in the future, but we had to focus on solving 1 problem first.

Farm technology also impacts consumers in that it enables transparency with consumers, this is very much a growing consumer need. When developing technology do you keep the whole supply chain, from farm to fork, in mind?

Yes. We have a group of advisors, 15 farmers, and we have also engaged with food companies. Their concerns relate to animal welfare, environment, consumer values. Consumers are proactively looking to understand where their food comes from and that has also altered our thinking and development plans.

We are going to learn a lot. That is what we need in order to solve agriculture’s biggest challenges."

When will ALUS Behavior be launched?

ALUS Behavior is expected in the third quarter of 2020, but the exact features of the product are under wraps; watch this space to learn more. It is planned to use the same hardware from ALUS Nutrition, which means that the customers who install ALUS Nutrition will be ahead of the game and push forward into new insights and pockets of profitability.

Can you sum up the abilities of ALUS Nutrition and how it pertains to the future of farming?

ALUS Nutrition makes it possible to see the availability of nutrients for cows, in real time, 24/7 and 365 days of the year, which is critical for productivity, profitability and sustainability.

Tell me about the name?

ALUS is the Celtic god of agriculture. It fits well with a brainstorming we held in the Boyne Valley last February, which was also the site of western Europe’s first farmers. In the meeting we examined the journey we had been on for the past 4 years and came up with the programme, which we have now named ALUS, a name very appropriate to the location of the meeting where its creation was agreed. This, and the technologies coming after it, have the potential to allow Cainthus to change the world of agriculture forever.

ALUS Nutrition was selected as a Top Ten new product winner at World Ag Expo which took place 11 – 13 February 2020 in the US. It was the official launch platform for ALUS Nutrition. Following the launch of ALUS Nutrition in the US market, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico will be next on the list of countries to see the roll-out of this technology. For more info: https://www.cainthus.com